Somebody/Nobody takes an easy shot at the fame game

Taj Ruler and Elizabeth Grullon star at Mixed Blood

Celebrity culture was once a snake eating its own tail. Today it's become something more elaborately grotesque: say, a snake that eats its own tail, regurgitates it, and then eats it again (while sporting a spray-on tan). There's no sense in judging it all at this point. The machine cares little what you think.

A pity, then, that playwright Jane Martin apparently hasn't read that memo. Her Somebody/Nobody takes a double-barreled shotgun to the barrel-floating fish of stardom, ending up as a witty but scattershot takedown of a culture that already does a very enthusiastic job of self-parody.

The action opens in Los Angeles, where young Loli (Taj Ruler) is having a crap day in her crap apartment, losing her menial job and fielding repeated phone calls from her mother back home in Kansas (we must posit the Midwest as an endless well of unfulfilled losers, after all). Loli's pad is shabby, not chic, decorated with such homely touches as a dirty boot that once belonged to her now-deceased brother.

I'm a celebrity, get me out of here: Elizabeth Grullon (left) and Taj Ruler
Ann Marsden
I'm a celebrity, get me out of here: Elizabeth Grullon (left) and Taj Ruler

Details

Somebody/Nobody
Mixed Blood Theatre
through March 14
612.338.6131

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So the case is made that Loli (pronounced "lowly," with the subtlety of a mallet to the forehead) needs some excitement, some kind of thrill, which presently arrives in the form of a knock on the door. On the other side is a bloodied and crazed Sheena Keener (Elizabeth Grullon), a glam star of tawdry movies and tunes for the tween set who has fled from an awards show and, perhaps, from her life of cheap thrills and empty exploitation.

Grullon's starlet speaks in decadent Dada, one moment demanding, in the next incoherent. In short order she manages to insult Loli's looks, apartment, and very existence, while declaring herself a "goddess" and exhibiting a tendency to lose consciousness without warning. She and Ruler are terrific together, with crack comic timing and an unselfish rapport. And Martin gives them all manner of zingers to work with, not least in explaining Sheena's nickname (won't spoil it here, although it has to do with intercourse and anatomical sound effects).

The fun doesn't last. Into the mix appears Loli's laconic cousin Joe Don (a droll, squinting Brandon Morris), a hermit and bounty hunter determined to deliver Loli back home (never mind how one can be both a hermit and a bounty hunter; can't you see the economy in combining two backwoods stereotypes?). Then we have the overblown mega-agent Galaxy (Mo Perry), a caricature of a Hollywood shark so unfunny that her eventual restraining via duct tape feels like an act of vicarious audience revenge.

The vacuous, ego-crazed star, the redneck macho man, the I'll-drink-your-milkshake talent rep: There's enough sludge to clog any spiritual drain. And while Martin has trodden into this territory before, with the anarchic freedom of the cackling bomb-thrower, the chief problem here is the lack of amusement. Great satire on some level contains a germ of sincerity. Instead, we have indiscriminate, undisciplined lashing out.

By contrast, Loli ends up garnering our greatest sympathy—until a tacked-on denouement about her falling ass-backward into imaginary glory that could be taken any number of ways, most likely that our heroine would hungrily scarf the spoils of celebrity should they come to her. Ultimately, the audience has probably considered the implications more thoroughly than the playwright has.

Martin is, of course, a pseudonym for someone who is avoiding the spotlight cast by her plays. Her anonymity has been spotless to date, but this time out her mockery lacks even the plastic charms of the targets she skewers. 

 
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